Celebrating London's multi-ethnic pianism
in the elect hands of
Ivan Kiwuwa, Mishka Momen and Wu Qian,
by MALCOLM TROUP
Before the month of November disappears beyond recall, let me belatedly take my hat off to the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe's Young Celebrity Festival of London's Multi-Ethnic Pianism at Leighton House Museum under the auspices of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, with which the month began (1-3 November 2006). This imaginative Mini-Festival was not only designed to show off the talents of three supremely gifted young pianists -- Ivan Kiwuwa (Uganda, Africa), Mishka Momen (India) and WU Qian (China) -- but also to celebrate how such ethnic diversity can be creatively harnessed. What better way than by taking, as happened here, a Beethoven sonata in each case as our point of departure -- Beethoven who was the first to stretch the narrow bounds of binary and ternary form into 'Eroica'-style time-scales approaching biological rhythms in their sweep. And it was precisely in this temporal dimension that time proved to be the essence in distinguishing one ethnic frame of reference from another.
The Festival seems to have taken as its text an observation of the late ethnomusicologist, Professor John Blacking: 'It is necessary to hear a piano recital by an African or an Indian and a sitar recital by an English person if only to demonstrate the individuality and transcendental universality of the arts.' (Today our English students are queuing up to join gamelan orchestras or try their hand at the didjeridoo, but the first part of that statement has remained as largely untested as it was in the Professor's day. In the 1980s, the idea of 'crossover' culture was still something new -- Steve Reich was only just beginning his experiments with Ewe drumming -- so when I needed a pianist to play Nigerian composer Akin Euba's Scenes from Traditional African Life no indigenous African pianist was anywhere to be found. No longer so with Ivan Kiwuwa (1 November) who, as Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne MEP -- the Festival's Patron -- informed us in her introduction, plays violin with the same innate talent as he does piano and whom Maxim Vengeroff discovered in the course of a Kampala masterclass before bearing him off to Germany with him to play Bach's Double Concerto with the Essen Philharmonic. At present, Kiwuwa is studying on a full scholarship with Ronan O'Hara, Head of Keyboard at the Guildhall School of Music, having already been awarded a solo début at London's South Bank by the Martin Musical Trust.
Copyright © 25 November 2006
Malcolm Troup, London UK